Pep Guardiola told his Manchester City players to forget their previous Champions League failures after cruising into the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Tuesday that sealed a 4-0 aggregate victory.
The Champions League is the one trophy that has remained elusive to Guardiola during his five years in Manchester with City failing to ever get beyond the last eight under the Catalan.
But the runaway Premier League leaders will get the chance to break that barrier next month as they showed why they are the bookies’ favourites for the competition with another classy performance in Budapest, which hosted both legs of the tie due to coronavirus restrictions on travel between England and Germany.
Early goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan killed off any hope of a fightback from the Germans as City recorded a 24th win in their last 25 games in all competitions.
“What happened in the past is the past,” said Guardiola, who won the Champions League twice as coach of Barcelona but has been unable to replicate that success with Bayern Munich or City.
“In the quarter-finals one bad game, (a few) bad minutes can punish you.
“Now it is the best teams in Europe. The quality every time is higher and hopefully we can maintain this mood.”
De Bruyne and Gundogan were two of a host of first-team regulars left out by Guardiola for Saturday’s 3-0 win at Fulham and City looked refreshed in a fast start.
De Bruyne blasted in the opener from outside the box off the underside of the bar on 12 minutes.
Six minutes later a flowing move from back to front saw Phil Foden release Gundogan in behind the Gladbach defence to score his 15th goal of the season.
“The start obviously helps a lot,” said De Bruyne. “We were patient in the beginning and then scoring the two goals gives us a bit of a cover knowing they need to come out a little bit more. I think we controlled the game.”
Gladbach have now lost all seven games since manager Marco Rose announced he will be leaving the club at the end of the season to join Borussia Dortmund.
– Rock solid City –
Defensive frailties have been the cause of City’s previous Champions League exits under Guardiola.
They conceded six goals to Monaco over two legs in 2017, five to Liverpool a year later, four to Tottenham in 2019, and suffered a shock 3-1 defeat to Lyon last season in a one-off tie in Lisbon.
However, the signing of Ruben Dias has transformed Guardiola’s men into the complete team this season as they remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple of Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup.
City have now kept seven consecutive Champions League clean sheets.
“We cannot deny Ruben and John (Stones) make an incredible step forward for the team,” added Guardiola.
“But we need everyone. Everyone runs a lot, the important thing is to understand we defend with the ball.”
With no key players missing through injury, the wealth of options Guardiola has to choose from is another reason this could finally be City’s year for a major breakthrough in Europe.
Fernandinho, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling were all introduced off the bench in the second half to give Dias, Joao Cancelo, Gundogan, Rodrigo and Bernardo Silva an early night ahead of Saturday’s trip to Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
By then, City will know their next Champions League opponents. On this form, they are the side to avoid in Friday’s quarter-final draw.